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Technology and the dialogic English classroom

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

One of the more curious elements of the contemporary classroom is that despite the emancipatory claims and promotion of dialogic talk over the last 30 years, the most common interactions between teacher and student would often appear to be anything but dialogic. There is some consensus that that the IRE or ‘initiation-response-evaluation’ (Mehan, 1979) in which a teacher asks a question which has a pre-ordained answer, is in fact the dominant mode of contemporary class discourse. As Lefstein and Snell (2011, p.161) argue; ‘the dominant pattern of classroom discourse is problematically monologic’. So a pressing question then is, if students are not making meaning dialogically, then how does classroom talk function in the contemporary English classroom?
Against this, much of the contemporary rhetoric around the adoption of technology in the classroom is redolent of the emancipatory claims of dialogic teaching, and yet despite this as Daly notes, technology is “still peripheral to learning and teaching in most English departments, and practice develops it in an ad hoc way which is scarcely sufficient to respond to the social environment which young learners now inhabit” (Daly, 2011 p.131). We have entered an age of dramatic social change through the ubiquity of digital technology, particularly the Internet and in a more recent context we have moved from the issue of a “digital divide” (DfE, 2010) to a near “universal” use of technology and Internet access and yet there is a clear lack of evidence as to the efficacy of technology in the classroom (OECD, 2015) despite many sensationalist claims around the promise of technology (Castells, 2002). So a second question then is, is technology really a transformative force in the English classroom and if so how? 
A further contextual factor is that changes to English GCSEs (DfE 2013) appear to limit both dialogic pedagogy and technology with a return to terminal examinations, an erosion of formally assessed classroom dialogue (Speaking and Listening) and a privileging of more measurable outcomes such as spelling, fact recall and recitation. My research seeks to incorporate two aims, both exploratory and indicative in nature (Denscombe, 2010). Firstly, I wanted to observe and evaluate dialogic talk within the context of the contemporary English classroom, and secondly to explore the emancipatory claims of new technological forms within the context of dialogic English classrooms. I video-recorded and transcribed five lessons each from four case studies, two featuring unusual and innovative use of technology and two with a more traditional dialogic interaction. I then triangulated these data with teacher and a focus group from each class and evaluated commonalities and differences between them with recommendations for future practice. 
I also want to use Bakhtin’s work as the central prism through which to firstly anchor and reconceptualise what we actually mean by dialogism in a contemporary sense, and then secondly to use his work to reconceptualise how we might better understand how to harness technology in the KS4 and 5 English classroom to facilitate dialogic teaching.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Feb 2019

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